Motorsport competition that involves motorized vehicles has been spreading gradually across the region particularly in Kenya and Uganda; however, in Rwanda, the sport is nose diving.
The reason is that the sport is beyond the reach of many owing to its expensive nature, on top of bottlenecks such as lack of enough sponsorship for the screws and enough effort is not being done by National Automobile Club (RAC) to boost the sport.
Since the beginning of this year, only one event was organized in March by Sina Gerald Urwibutso Enterprise. During the race, 13 screws registered, and six completed the rally.
In Kenya for instance, the sport has experienced significant growth since it was revived in the last 25 years.
Today, the country boosts 70 licensed motorsport screws of whom 50 are active competitors, participating in national championship throughout the season.
In Uganda, there are over 50 while 38 are active of which their national federations and private rally enthusiasts organize at least two rally events in a month.
When it comes to our local the national championship, Burundians have spiced the Rwanda championship in numbers, Bujumbura based drive of Din Imtiaz was crowned the champion last year.
In Kenya, some crews choose to attend one or two events; these competitions exclude the annual seven series of African Rally Championship (ARC) which takes place every season.
The ARC takes place in seven countries on the continent with screws racing in seven series from the opening event in Ivory Coast, South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda will host this year’s last event: the popular Mountain Gorilla Rally in September.
The winner is crowned Africa champion, after collecting points from racing at least in most of the events. Kenyans and Zambians have dominated the ARC they come to Kigali and dominate the Mountain Gorilla rally.
No Rwandan local driver has ever won the ARC, not in the coming decades because of Kenyans, Zambians, and a Ugandan have held their position because of their superior driving skills, speed plus upgrading cars and owing to their frequent exposure to the ARC on the continent.
Since 2015 Jaspreet Singh Chatthe, Don Smith and Manvir Baryan from Kenya have been championing. Manvir dominated the last two events. In 2017, he became a champ after winning the Mountain Gorilla race in a ceremony held at Kigali Convention Center.
The Skoda driver is likely to make a landmark by defending the title for the third time.
Today, he leads the ARC with 85 points after winning two series; Ivory Coast and finishing second in SA, and going into the Zambia International Rally in June.
Davite Giancarlo, a Belgium driver is the only local driver to have toured in all the ARC series, however since being banned for the whole of 2016 by RAC on allegations of misconduct, he switched the license to Burundi.
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evo driver has won the Mt Gorilla twice that is in 2009 and 2013, while retired Elefter Mitraros won the in 2012 round but the series.
Since 2000 the rest of the events have been won by foreign screws including Burundian driver Valery Bukera for the first time in 2016.
In 2014, Davite was the last local driver to appear competing in the continental rally championship.
ARC attracts screws from Kenyan, Uganda, Tanzania, and Zambians, In Uganda and Kenya, the sport is popular with a huge fan base.
The growth in Uganda has been attributed mainly to competition with rivals Kenya, with the past five years registering significant development in the country.
Kenya has now overtaken Uganda at the continental level, late Charles Muhangi in1999 was the first and last Ugandan to win at the continental level, while Burundi’s Walter Costa won it (series) in 1990.
But although the RAC in partnership with Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) have tried to initiate new developments like Go Kart racing since last year, stakeholders say that the development has not brought in a change due to myriad bottlenecks.
For example, growth in the numbers of those taking up the sport especially in the juniors are still beyond the reach of many owing to its expensive nature of the sport.
Regional drivers have raised the competition bar by upgrading to expensive and speedy and latest versions of world rally class racing cars.
Manvir has become a name to reckon with for his Skoda Fabia R5, Zambia’s Leroy Gomes made a big upgrade earlier this month when he changed hands from a Mitsubishi EvoX to a Ford Fiesta R5.
Given that the 2019 Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) season has taken a break from May to June according to Kenya Motor Sports Federation (KMSF), some of the Kenyan crews have turned to use the break to compete in the next round of the 2019 ARC due June 6-9 in Zambia.
The break is due to a major Safari World Championship Rally in July, the event is World Rally Championship series that was incorporated on the international motorsport calendar by FIA this year.
Meanwhile, no Rwandan screw has shown interest in the ARC other than to wait to race in one round; Mt Gorilla which does not count for one to be crowned ARC, except for raising points for the national championship.
RAC president Christian Gakwaya thinks all is not lost.
The president thinks as part of the development to revolutionize the sport, RAC will introduce Virtual online rally, Karting, and X-Cars to increase numbers plus joining the East and Central Africa Enduro championship.
He has emphasized that online championship will be organized to detect talent with ten units of equipment to be secured to start a competition that will rotate in schools to nurture talents from the grassroots, which is yet to be seen.
This weekend, a Go Karting race will take place at Pili Pil, Kibagabaga each participant will part with Rwf 5,000.
Gakwaya has also pointed out that, the essence is to have more than one development programs from the grassroots level in each category of the local Motorsport arena.
Introduced last year in August, by the International Automobile Federation (FIA) President Jean Todt in partnership with RAC, Go Karting (Go-Kart) is new to the public.
The cause is to encourage more entries, create fun as well as spreading it to different parts of the country, however, so far only two events have been organized in the capital Kigali.
To restructure and strengthen local motorsport, RAC is still seeking to acquire land to construct a permanent circuit.
The motorsport fraternity seeking to acquire land and construct a permanent circuit which is a good idea.
Besides, stakeholders think RAC is not doing enough a reason why the sport taking a nosedive.
Dismas Kayibanda the RAC honorary president concurs with the view that local motorsport needs a boost if it is to turn round much as it is a pocket unfriendly sport.
“RAC should consider approaching the government for duty exemptions for spare parts and equipment for rally cars if the sport is to grow to the next level.
Kayibanda explains that purchasing a new racing car, parts like tires or airlifting a vehicle to take part in one of the ARC events in a country like South Africa is worth an estimated US$30,000 to US$35,000.
He also advised screws to seek sponsorship from corporate institutions in return for advertisement and promotion just like how it is done by regional screws in Kenya or Tanzania or Zambia.